Skill Runes

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Runes in Diablo 3 are small items that are socketed into active skills, (not into items as they were in Diablo 2). Diablo 3's skill runes grant special bonuses to the skill they are socketed into, improving the skill's function in various ways, such as adding damage or multiple hits, reducing cost, etc.

There are five types of runes, each representing a general type of bonus, the names of which have changed repeatedly during game development. The most recent information came from Bashiok in late May 2010, when he revealed the current rune names as Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden, Alabaster. [1]

Runes spawn at various levels of quality (5 or 6 levels), e.g., "Minor Alabaster Runestone."

Every Rune Works in Every Skill

The since-renamed Hydra Rune.

Jay Wilson has stressed that runes must add a useful function to multiple types of skills, since every type of rune will be socketable in every action skill. (As far as we know.) This leads to some odd and creative design decisions, since while it's obvious what most runes will do in most skills, there are some exceptions. Consider what a rune that adds multiple hits or damage does for a purely defensive/shielding skill? Or a movement skill like the Wizard's Teleport?

The D3 Team wants all the runes to be useful to all classes, so they did not add runes that just boosted one type of skill, or one character's skills. They have to find general function bonuses that worked across the board, which is why there are not fifty types of runes. Just five, though one of the five is basically a wild card rune that does odd and different things in different skills.

Rune Types and Functions

Jay Wilson briefly described the five types of runes during an interview from BlizzCon 2009. The following property descriptions are exact quotes from Jay, reformatted into bullet points for easier consumption: [2]

"One tends to be more damage-oriented."

  • This rune was first called Power, then changed to Force Rune. Its "color" name isn't yet known. (Crimson?)

"One tends to multiply effects, splits projectiles or bigger radiuses, things like that."

  • This is the Indigo Rune, first known as Multistrike, then Hydra.

"One tends to be a very energy-efficient rune, so you cut down cost or in some way increases the benefit of the skill, so you get more for less."

  • This is the Energy Rune. It's "color" name isn't yet known.

"One tends to be more focused on death effects, critical effects."

  • This Rune was originally called Lethality, then Viper. Its "color" name isn't yet known. (Obsidian?)

"And one of them we call just... the weird rune, which is our grab bag for anything unusual we want to stick on."

  • The wild card rune was originally called Striking. Its "color" name isn't yet known.

These five types of function have remained unchanged since Runes were first revealed as a Diablo 3 feature, although their names have changed repeatedly.

Rune Names

There are five types of runes in Diablo 3. Their names have changed during development, though when he named them in (May 2010), Bashiok said these were fairly set for the final game: Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden, Alabaster. These names are all adjectives for colors (red, blue, black, gold, white), but it's not known if the rune names will appear in those colors in the game.

The five known rune names, prior to the color-themed name change:

Only the Multistrike > Hydra > Indigo rune name progression is confirmed as of June 2010. It's unknown which of the others are now called Golden, Alabaster, Obsidian, or Crimson. Their properties are unchanged; just their titles.

Rune Name Evolution

Blizzard's Diablo 3 community manager shed some light on the reason for the latest rune name change in May 2010: [3]

Bashiok: The runes have really just been renamed to allow us greater flexibility in what they do so we’re not creating a weird detachment from what they’re called and the effect they provide. For example what was the multi-strike rune going to do for ... say, Slow Time? And does that match what the name implies, or what you would assume? Probably not.

A few days later, he elaborated on this issue:

Bashiok: ...the purpose of renaming them was... to remove a strict theme. I’m not aware of any rune effects we’ve shown being removed, I think all those still exist just the way they were shown. Just instead of multi-strike/hydra, it’s called Indigo, and while for a lot of skills it still has a very multi-strike theme, it’s not a rule dictated by the name.

Rune Quality Levels

There are five types of runes. Each individual rune, of whatever type, can spawn at various quality levels; Jay Wilson said there would be five or six such levels. As of late 2008, "minor" was said to be the lowest quality, though the modifier names may have changed since that point. As with all items in the game, higher quality runes will be rarer, and only findable from higher level monsters. The functions of a given type of rune will not change as the quality increases; instead the bonuses will be increased.

The name format is fairly simple, as Bashiok described in May 2010. [4]

I don’t think quality names have been decided for sure yet (?), but for example it would be something like “Minor Alabaster Runestone”.

For example: "[quality] [rune type] Runestone"

Rune Tool Tips

Hovering over a rune will show a description of what it does. Holding the rune while hovering on a skill will give more information, as Bashiok said in May 2010. [5]

Pick up a rune and mousing it over a skill and the tooltip will tell you how it affects the skill. The UI does a good job of informing you how each rune interacts with each skill.

Rune Crafting/Upgrading

The D3 team has not yet revealed any information about item crafting in Diablo 3, other than to say that they won't have any Horadric Cube-style converting items.

It's therefore not known if runes will be craftable, or upgradeable, but given the game's focus on items, it's certainly possible.

Rune Storage

At the BlizzCon 2008 demo, runes were stored in an inventory grid on the skill tree menu; not in the normal inventory. There were 10 rune slots below the skill trees. It's not known if they will still be stored there in the final game, if there will be ways to increase the number of slots, or if they can be stored in the inventory instead.

Rune Appearance

Rune Socket

As of BlizzCast episode 8 (30th of March, 2009) [6] Runes and Rune Sockets changed from squares below a skill to horizontal rectangles, as seen in the image to the right.

Rune Function Examples

Skill Runes in Diablo III improve a character's active skills in various creative ways. Runes can be used strategically; different runes in the same spell will do things, and there are multiple quality levels of the same rune type, scaling the increases up.

For example: the Wizard skill Blizzard would gain different benefits from different runes. A few hypothetical Blizzard bonuses: more falling projectiles, longer duration, more damage per projectile, longer chill time, better to/hit, better chance of critical hit, and so forth. Also, each of those types of bonuses would be increased in power by the quality of the rune used, allowing for a huge variety of potential bonuses and play styles.

When first announced, Blizzard said that runes could be removed from sockets at any time and without any penalty. It's not known if this is still the case. If so, players could theoretically juggle their runes for different situations, sticking in a multi-strike rune to deal with big mobs, changing to a power rune to up the single target damage before a boss battle, and so forth. It therefore seems likely that Blizzard will take steps to limit this sort of switching, perhaps forcing players to return to town before they can change the rune socketed in a spell, putting a cool down time on resocketing the same skill, limiting the number of times a particular rune can be socketed, or some other hindrances.

Function Examples

The D3 Team gave several examples of rune functions during a panel at BlizzCon 2008 when Skill Runes were first revealed as a game feature. (Watch the demonstration on YouTube.) The rune names have all changed since this time, but the functions are said to still be nearly identical, hence the following examples, though outdated, remain illustrative of what we'll see in the final game.

Wizard's Mirror Image

Mirror Image Skill: This skill, from the Conjuring Skill Tree, creates a duplicate of the wizard, which is capable of moving around and using spells to attack monsters. (It's not just a decoy or an illusion.)

    • Hydra/Multistrike Rune: Socketing this rune would increase the number of duplicates. Higher quality levels of the hydra/multi-strike rune would presumably add more duplicates.
    • Force/Power Rune: Socketing this rune would increase the hit points of each duplicate, and increase the spell's duration.

Wizard's Teleport Skill

Teleport skill: This skill, from the Arcane Skill Tree, teleports the Wizard to the targeted location. The spell isn't quite as quick as it was in Diablo or Diablo 2, since the Wizard leaps up into the air before vanishing, and appears in the air, then falls down to earth.

  • Striking Rune: Adds damage to targets near where the Wizard appears, functioning something like the Barbarian's Leap Attack skill.
Striking rune adds damage to the Wizard's teleport.

  • Hydra/Multistrike Rune: Creates a temporary duplicate of the Wizard that will attract enemy fire and will fight and deal damage as well. (This seems to be basically a free way to cast Mirror Image when you Teleport.)
Multistrike creates multiple wizards with Teleport.

Witch Doctor's Skull of Flame

Skull of Flame skill: The Witch Doctor lobs a flaming skull, grenade style, which explodes on impact, dealing substantial fire damage to nearby targets. Different runes affect this skill in different ways. Here are a couple of examples as presented during a BlizzCon 2008 panel discussion.

  • Hydra/Multistrike Rune: Socketing this rune causes the flaming skull to skip along the ground, like a stone over water, bounding and creating multiple explosions. Higher quality runes would allow additional bounces.
A multi-strike rune adds multiple hits.

  • With Force/Power Rune: Socketing this rune adds a firefield property to the Skull of Flame, creating a small patch of flame on the ground that persists after the skull's explosion and damages any monsters that cross over it.
A force rune adds duration to the flames.

Wizard's Electrocute

Electrocute skill: This skill, from the Storm Skill Tree creates a strand of lightning that locks onto an enemy like a beam weapon, dealing steady lightning damage.

  • Hydra/Multistrike Rune: Socketing this rune allows the lightning to chain to multiple targets.
Multiple targets are hit with the Hydra rune.

  • With Viper/Lethality Rune: Socketing this rune causes some of the monsters killed by Electrocute to explode in a nova, dealing damage to other nearby enemies.
Lethality rune adds AoE damage to enemy deaths.

D3 Runes vs. D2 Runes

Runes in Diablo III are nothing like the Runes found in Diablo II. In D2 there were 33 kinds of Runes, which were small items that had no use on their own, but that could be placed in item sockets to add various bonuses to the item. Certain combinations of runes could also be used to create RuneWords, very powerful items with pre-set stats.

BlizzCon 2009

If any of the first six steps are changed, (and they will be) then the outcome will be fully scrapped.

Skill Runes were not enabled at BlizzCon 2009, for reasons Jay Wilson elaborated on during an interview after the show: They’re still being reworked and you don’t have any further comment?
Jay Wilson: They’re not being reworked, we had tons of skill runes on the Wizard and the Barbarian but they were so spotty across the entire class we thought it would be more confusing to show them off than to not. So we just disabled them all for the BlizzCon build. But they’re all still there and they work just fine.

During another interview, Jay Wilson explained the creative process of making a rune, and how making any changes at all to the first steps will scrap the end results entirely, as can be seen in the image on the right. [7]

Jay Wilson: Well, the system is similar for every class. What we did is we broke down five basic runes. Each rune has a general type of effective pluses. One tends to be more damage-oriented. One tends to multiply effects, splits projectiles or bigger radiuses, things like that. One tends to be a very energy-efficient rune, so you cut down cost or in some way increases the benefit of the skill, so you get more for less. One tends to be more focused on death effects, critical effects. And one of them we call just... the weird rune, which is our grab bag for anything unusual we want to stick on.
Every active skill -- we define an active skill as a skill that you have to click to activate -- can have all five runes affect it. Each rune will change the function of the skill. Some of the changes are minor, there are some cases where there's not much appreciable effect. And then some cases are much more drastic, where for example with Ice Storm or Blizzard, one of the things we're playing around with, this halo of frost whips around her and anyone that moves through it takes damage. That adds on to the effects that Ice Storm already does. So there's a whole bunch of different... the basic idea is to capture that dream of, I'm gonna customize my skills. Even though you and I have the exact same skills, we don't play the same because our skills are different. And then throughout the game, the runes will upgrade in power. So that will just increase and amplify the effect that they have.

Further Reading

You can find out more of the essential information about Diablo I and Diablo II runes in the Diablo 2 Wiki.

Diablo II Runes

  • Runes - The main page for D2 runes.
  • Rune FAQ - All your questions about runes are answered here.
  • Rune list - All the runes in Diablo II, and how you can create a Zod rune from a fourteen trillion Els.
  • Runewords - See how runewords work.
  • Sockets - Get to know more about the socket mechanic.

Diablo I Runes

The Diablo I expansion, Hellfire added "runes" as a trap-like type of item. Read more about them in the Diablo I Runes article.

Trivia (Rune History)

What do you really know about runes? The ones from our world come from the ancient Vikings, and their "futhark" (equivalence of our 'Alpha Bet(a)') (which again come from the even more ancient Tibetan Yantras). They allegedly hold magic powers, and the magicks of the 'runa' are still practised today. These practices, called "Seden", are of course done mostly as a pastime, but some forms of the old runes were used in proper form as late as early 20th century in the 'Dalarna' area of Sweden...

Diablo 2 Runes

In Sanctuary, however, runes are magically inscribed symbols. Though their use has changed slightly in the last 20 years, they used to grant (sufficiently prepared) items magical properties. For sages of these runes, magical RuneWords would be created to remake a mundane item into a Runic Item, with powers competing with magical artifacts.

Besides the fact that these supposedly ancient runes hold great and mystic powers, we know little about them. Who created them or how they are created is unknown. They seem to attract demons of different kinds, as they are often found on their corpses. If the runes are of demonic origin is not known either. They could have been the simple writing language of the first inhabitants of Sanctuary, who themselves were more powerful than Demons or Angels. Whatever the origin, they are of great use to heroes wishing to dethrone Diablo or Baal.